RAMALLAH, Palestine

Defying restrictions, Palestinian women in Israeli prisons find ways to stay connected to their friends on special days like birthdays and religious observances.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the eve of International Friendship Day which is being observed on Friday, Shatha Hassan a student activist at Birzeit University who spent six months in Al-Damon jail near Haifa, said her friends outside helped her to keep spirits high by keeping in touch.

She said her friends had found several ways to keep in touch with her and not leave her feeling lonely.

“They used to gather at the Art College Street at Birzeit University, a place I liked a lot, and used to record voice messages for me. These details of listening to these messages and their voices made me feel unchained,” she said.

On the first day of Ramadan, Hassan received a nearly five-minute-long voice message from 10 of her friends’ blessing and praying for her.

Now outside the jail, she opens her memory box and looks at the notebook that her friends gave her when she came out of jail. The notebook contains a compilation of colorful images and the words of solidarity and love that they had compiled for her when she was in the prison.

Hassan’s friends had captured all that was written about her in social media when she was behind the high walls of the prison.

“When I was in jail, my sister who visited me said that my friends have prepared a surprise for me, but I did not predict it will be that beautiful, full of memories and emotions,” she said.

Hassan was arrested in December 2019 and then sentenced to administrative detention for six months without any charges.

She feels that this gift from friends has given her support and sympathy and immortalized memories of the harsh days that she spent inside prison.

Hooked to radio program

She said that inside her prison cell, she used to wait for the radio program in which the families of the inmates were sending messages to the imprisoned sons and daughters.

During the duration of her detention, her friends used to send a message through radio broadcasts and call her to tell her about her daily life back at the university.

“When I was released, they told me they were organizing calls alternately between them to let me remain in contact with them every day,” she said.

The Israeli authorities do not allow the Palestinian female inmates to call their families or friends. Visits are also limited to first-class relatives and irregular since the beginning of the corona pandemic.

Hassan said that people do create ways to remain in touch.

It was a surprise for her friends when she told them after her release that these little things like sending messages and call her was kept her spirits up and mean a lot for a prisoner.

Hassan recalls that on her birthday, her friends celebrated it on the radio.
“More than 20 of my friends sent their wishes through airwaves. It was warm and a surprise,” she said.

When her favorite writer published his new book, her friends managed to send the book to her through her family.

One of the most prominent concerns of the Palestinian inmates is whether or not people outside remember them. So, the calls via the radio make them feel that they are not forgotten.

Value of these calls

Since she was released, Hassan through radio podcasts remains in touch with friends, who are still in prison.

“I know the value of these calls, what it means for my colleagues in the jail, and how it extricates them from the sadness and dark moments, “she said.

Outside the jail, she along with other former prisoners is making a calendar to note down birthdays of prison inmates to send them wishes.

“When you are released, you leave behind people, who have become more than friends to you. It is our second family that we develop behind high prison walls. We dream to meet them again in freedom,” said Hassan.

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